Rules Guy: Is it legal to remove a loose impediment behind your ball if doing so improves your lie?

aeration plugs

What do the rules say about moving aeration plugs to improve your lie?

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The Rules of Golf are tricky! Thankfully, we’ve got the guru. Our Rules Guy knows the book front to back. Got a question? He’s got all the answers.

A friend’s ball came to rest atop an area where the maintenance staff had dumped greens plugs from a recent course aeration. Beneath the plugs, in an area normally considered rough, was washed-out hardpan. At first, my friend asked to take relief for ground under repair, but it wasn’t marked as such — and I suggested, sincerely, that his existing lie was quite good and not likely to improve with a drop. He agreed but then decided to remove some plugs from behind the ball, leaving the ball resting in its original spot but now perched up. His justification for removing the plugs was the loose impediment rule. That seemed reasonable — but can removing loose impediments be considered a rules violation for improving your lie? Also, despite the lack of signage, could it ever have been legal to take a drop for ground under repair?
—John Harkins, Raleigh, NC

Keep friends with this one — he’s a wise guy.

Not only was he right about the aeration plugs being loose impediments but also that he could remove them in any way so long as the ball stayed put.

Rule 8.1 specifically states that it doesn’t apply to removing loose impediments, and so even if the lie becomes better as a result (and isn’t that really the point of removing loose impediments?) there is no penalty so long as the ball isn’t moved in the process.

As far as the drop goes, that depends: If the aeration plugs were piled for later removal, then the pile itself was by definition ground under repair and free relief permissible. If the plugs were in their final home then, no, free relief wasn’t allowed.

For more loose -impediment guidance from our guru, read on …

golfer placing ball
Rules Guy: When playing under winter rules, can you tee up your ball with a loose impediment?
By: Rules Guy

On a gusty day, the wind had blown a branch just behind the hole on the low side of a sloping green. The first player up had a long putt from above the hole and wanted to leave the branch in place as a backstop. We agreed, thinking he wasn’t obligated to remove a loose impediment. The next player to go was below the hole, blocked by the branch, which he removed. You guessed it: The third player was above the hole, and he wanted the branch returned to where it had been to get the same advantage as the first player. We were baffled.
—Jimmy Jackson, Charlottesville, Va.

Jimmy, please allow me to un-baffle you: The third player can indeed have the branch put back.

Under Interpretation 8.1(d)1/2 (yes, seriously — the Rules are nothing if not thorough), a player is generally entitled to the conditions that existed when the ball came to rest. Since the conditions affecting his stroke had worsened, the stick could be re-stuck.

Need help unriddling the greens at your home course? Pick up a custom Green Book from 8AM Golf affiliate GolfLogix.

Got a question about the Rules? Ask the Rules Guy! Send your queries, confusions and comments to We promise he won’t throw the book at you.

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